Rating: 4 1/2 pints of blood
I'll be honest: the cover for Broken freaks me right out. That image does not say seduction to me, it looks more like date rape. The placement of the woman's hand (at least, I seriously hope that's meant to be a woman; the size difference is another part of the disturbing factor for me) indicates discomfort on her part instead of anticipation or encouragement, and the man's hand doesn't seem to care. Creeepy.
I'm not usually much of an erotica reader. I have nothing against sex in books, but that's not what I read for. I read to discover new stories and meet new characters, and most of the erotica I've seen so far is lacking on both those fronts. A lot of it reads like someone wrote a bunch of kinky sex scenes and then used the minimal elements required to tie them together in a book. Not so much what I'm interested in, but it has its own audience. To each his or her own.
I read Broken because I'd been told it was a good story on its own, regardless of categorization. And well, if I'm willing to read novels written by Fabio, I'd better be willing to read a book I've been assured actually has merit.
So how was it? Really good, actually. Broken is an intensely powerful story, and I suspect if Hart had cut down on the sex scenes, this book would have been labelled "literary fiction" and been praised by the same critics who won't go near it now because it's genre fiction and heaven forbid they be caught with something their snobby friends would consider tawdry.
Four years ago, Sadie's life was ideal. She worked as a psychiatrist, was married to a brilliant poet who also happened to be the only man she'd ever loved, and was deliriously happy. But then Adam had his skiing accident, which severed his spine and left him an angry quadriplegic. He can't feel or move anything from the neck down, and needs constant surveillance and care. Unable to do any of the things he used to do by himself, even the simplest things like feeding himself, using the bathroom, or reaching out to touch his wife, Adam retreats within his mind, no longer sharing with his wife any of the thoughts and dreams he used to.
For the past four years, Sadie has felt like her life has been put on hold. She still loves her husband, but with no emotional or sexual contact with him, she feels more like his nursemaid than his wife. Adam has made it clear he's not interested in discussing their marriage or in playing around with sexual alternatives, and above all, Sadie is lonely. Grieving for the loss of a marriage that's dead in spirit if not in fact, she runs into a man named Joe, whose polite and witty conversation catches her off guard.
Once a month, they meet to talk, and it's all they ever do. Joe regales her with detailed stories of his sexual exploits, they eat lunch, and then go their separate ways. Joe has a wild encounter with a different girl every month, always revealing a small piece of himself in the story he tells. Sadie feels guilty over these meetings, but she can't seem to stop herself from showing up every month. Joe's stories provide her with fantasy fodder for the next 30 days, and in her imagination, she's the star of every lurid tale he tells her, her mind providing her with intimate details about Joe she can't possibly know. She's never told her husband about Joe, although he's clearly growing suspicious that Sadie may be sleeping with someone else.
The plot description on the back of the book tries to make the whole thing sound a lot naughtier than it's presented in the pages of the story, and judging from that alone I would never have picked the thing up. But Sadie's story is a tragic one, full of genuine human emotion, and is the type of book that makes you think, which is perhaps even more valuable.
A lot of books with a high number of sex scenes get repetitive. "We've gone about twenty pages now, so let's stop what we were doing and make like bunnies!" It's hard to maintain eroticism over the course of a 400-page novel, with most books either becoming repetitive or going too far over the top. Broken escapes either fate through the clever use of Joe's stories, which may feature a different girl each time but always manage to maintain the human element throughout.
I'm not sure I ever came to truly like Sadie per se, but I always understood her. Regardless of what she was doing, she was infinitely relatable and all her decisions made sense to me. As for her being likeable, well, I think part of the issue is that she struggles with her own identity, feeling trapped in the expectations of others, most of which don't truly fit her anymore. While I never fell madly in love with her, I never disliked her, but I always, always felt for what she was going through. If that makes any sense.
Broken is not a light read, and it's not escapism. It's the story of a troubled woman trying to get through an incredibly difficult time in her life, showing some of the parts of marriage and of living with a disability we may not usually see. By turns erotic and gut-wrenching, it's an ambitious and thought-provoking book, and well worth the time invested. Even if it has a creepy cover.